Aaron Miller: Flying is just plane tiring

Imagine standing in an endless line for hours. It is hot and humid. You need to go on a very important journey — maybe to see family, go on a job interview or for a medical appointment. You may go for hours without a chance to eat, drink, go to the bathroom, or even sit down. Meanwhile, martinets and bureaucrats bark confusing, conflicting, and unintelligible orders at you.

You and your meager possessions are searched. There is a chance your possessions will disappear forever. Then you are crammed into a metal tube with dozens of other people, sitting on a tiny chair with less padding than an ironing board. Along the way, you are charged for every single convenience. There is a good chance that you will arrive hours or days later than expected. Or your journey may be canceled altogether. You endured all of this grief for nothing.

Is this some sort of medieval punishment or a scene from a nightmarish Pink Floyd video? No, it is navigating commercial air service in the 21st century.

The actual experience of flying, to soar above the clouds, is amazing. Modern jets climb higher than Mount Everest and approach the speed of sound. You cross continents and oceans in a matter of hours. But as a whole, flying is aggravating and uncomfortable. Traveling by air becomes very difficult if not impossible for the elderly, the sick, families with little children, or people with disabilities. We can do better.

Airlines pour gasoline on the fire by serving irate customers too much booze. The airlines seem surprised when drunk passengers become unruly and belligerent.

Like many of you, I have several tales of woe from traveling. Years ago, what should have been a five-hour flight from Albuquerque turned into a 27-hour odyssey that included stops in Oklahoma City and Philadelphia, and spending the night on the floor of the Dallas airport. On another trip, I was stuck in the Kansas City airport for more than a day. I could have driven to my destination faster.

Most recently, thanks to the bungling of another airline, we spent two extra days waiting to get home. I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say the name of this particular airline is also the fourth letter from the alphabet of a country in southern Europe. After a whole series of failures, we missed our connection. The flight attendants assured us that a team of customer service representatives would meet us on the ground. Of course, that was a lie.

Instead, we waited in pointless lines for hours. We were ignored, given wrong information, and sent on wild goose chases across the airport — which is exactly what you want to do in the middle of the night when you are already exhausted. The employees were rude and did not care.

To be sure, the pandemic and the surge of people traveling again this summer has created a logistical mess. But flying before the pandemic was still no picnic.

When traveling, even on short trips, I try to take everything in stride. I assume something will go wrong. I just try to mentally prepare to roll with the punches. But improvements can be made.

We can, at least, explore other mass transit options. While high-speed rail may not be cost effective or practical everywhere, a few lines, such as New York City to Chicago, Chicago to Atlanta, and Los Angeles to San Francisco might work. The US has been planning high-speed rail for more than 60 years and was one of the first nations to develop a line. Yet, it is still not a reality except for the Acela train on the East Coast. On a related topic, I am perplexed as to why the Indianapolis International Airport has no mass transit options besides the bus to connect it to the cities of the state.

My other suggestion is much cheaper and simpler. Why don’t the airlines try to actually help their passengers and treat them with some courtesy and respect? I have met some great airline employees who have been so kind and helpful. Airline management should embrace those employees, and use them as models for the rest of their industry.

Would a columnist write an entire piece as a petty and probably futile way to get back at an airline? Could be.

Aaron Miller is one of The Republic’s community columnists and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He has a doctorate in history and is an associate professor of history at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus. Send comments to [email protected]